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Could life spread across space like a virus ?

By T.K. Randall
August 28, 2015 · Comment icon 10 comments

Can life spread from one world to another ? Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Astrophysicists are hoping to one day track the spread of life from one star system to another.
Scientists have long speculated over what processes might give rise to life on other worlds.

One of these, a process known as panspermia, involves life from one planet being transported to another on chunks of rock that have been propelled in to space during violent asteroid collisions.

Taking this concept one step further, a team headed up by Henry Lin of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics has put forward the idea that, if panspermia does occur, then it should be possible to track the spread of life through the stars like we might track the progress of a virus.
"Life could spread from host star to host star in a pattern similar to the outbreak of an epidemic," said co-author Avi Loeb. "In a sense, the Milky Way galaxy would become infected with pockets of life."

To track this theoretical expansion of life the scientists created a computer model that could simulate how the seeds of life might travel between the stars and take root on habitable worlds.

"In our theory clusters of life form, grow, and overlap like bubbles in a pot of boiling water," said Lin.

With no real-world examples of panspermia to study the research remains for now more of a thought exercise, but within the next few decades the team believes that it may ultimately be possible to use a system just like this to study from afar how life might spread throughout the cosmos.

Source: Discovery News | Comments (10)

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Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by BeastieRunner 9 years ago
That would be kind of depressing to find out if it was true for your species.
Comment icon #2 Posted by questionmark 9 years ago
could, also could not. The classic view of life starting from scratch is just as plausible.
Comment icon #3 Posted by Infernal Gnu 9 years ago
Too late to vaccinate the Milky Way galaxy, I guess. Poor thing.
Comment icon #4 Posted by Frank Merton 9 years ago
Comparison of life spreading to a virus doesn't work on many levels. Life could spread, but it seems probably doesn't.
Comment icon #5 Posted by Sundew 9 years ago
While it may be true that rocks have been blasted off Mars and ended up on Earth, and possibly the reverse has happened as well, those are relatively nearby worlds compared to the nearest star system. There should be some inverse law of distance and volume at work here: that is the farther from the source of the rock that would seed life, the less change there is that it will actually hit another object. Put a couple of marbles on the floor of a warehouse two inches apart and try to hit one with another, no problem, now put them 300 feet apart and try it. And that is only in two dimensions, no... [More]
Comment icon #6 Posted by Athena1979 9 years ago
So...where did the origin of the "virus" come from?
Comment icon #7 Posted by questionmark 9 years ago
So...where did the origin of the "virus" come from? Ah, there the relevant question... now, the Bible thumpers think they have an answer. The fact is that it changes nothing about the mystery of the origin of life nor invalidates any of the theorems that have been presented without considering panspermia. So, if the transition of dead matter to life matter did not happen on Earth, it happened somewhere else... Next irrelevant theme please.
Comment icon #8 Posted by Frank Merton 9 years ago
We don't know exactly just how life on our earth originated -- it happened at the chemical level billions of years ago, so it is extremely unlikely we will ever know. However, it is not hard to imagine, in a reducing atmosphere free of destructive oxygen (which only came after photosynthesis had evolved), with massive oceans and lots of energy sources, that over a billion years or so a soup would evolve with all sorts of chemicals and self-replicating molecules would appear. Once that had been achieved natural selection would do the rest. Chemists tend to think it has to have happened in a sor... [More]
Comment icon #9 Posted by DieChecker 9 years ago
Given billions of years, and enough movement of debris, the idea is completely possible. I don't know if this is how Earth life got started, but I'd suspect that if we ever do find life out there, on other worlds, and if the DNA arrangement basically matches up with ours, then that would be a big piece of evidence that we would be related somehow.
Comment icon #10 Posted by MyOtherAccount 9 years ago

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